I’m going to start with a little hypothetical situation. Imagine your house is on fire, I know…not a very pleasant thought especially if your house has actually been on fire before. But just imagine that it is. There are yellow and orange flames everywhere and you know that you only have enough time to retrieve one thing from you house before everything is lost. Everything else you own will burn into ash and float away in the wind. Now let’s just say everyone is out of the house, including pets. What do you take?
Every person would have a different answer to this question. Picture of my family, my favorite piece of jewelry my grandma gave to me, some knick knack or another that has some sort of sentimental value. The possibilities are endless. But it might be hard to narrow down all your things to just one item you would take. But as you read this, think about what you would take.
Theburninghouse.com is a website that’s asks you to take a picture of the things you would bring if your house was burning down. I decided see the conventional and unconventional things people decided to bring and how similar or different they were to one another. I looked at 60 pictures and took note of the things people decided to bring, and some things that I found were surprising and others were not. We would all like to think we are a little different from one another, but all humans are actually pretty similar. About 30% of the people who took a picture are very like-minded individuals and brought very similar things with them, and 87% brought at least one of the top items. Their pictures looked more or less something like this:
(From greatest to still-pretty-great-but-less) A camera, a favorite or important book, a cellphone, some sort of bag, passport, wallet, a personal computer, a type of notebook or journal; these things rated the highest in what people would take. I didn’t have a passport to take a picture of, so just pretend it’s there. If people took one of these items there was usually another one of the items they brought along, about 30ish percent out of the 60 pictures. I found it interesting that 25 people decided to take their phone but only 2 people decided to take their chargers… well at least two people are thinking ahead. I get the importance of most of those top things, passports, wallets, electronics and all that, I would take those things too. However, there are some things I don’t understand in bringing. Clothes. About 70% of people brought one or more items of clothing, the highest item being shoes. Why are the shoes so important? Can’t you just get new shoes? If all my shoes burned I would be more than happy to go buy lots of new ones for myself. There were a few other items that baffled me as well like: pens and pencils, makeup, perfume, sunglasses and liquor. Can’t you buy these things pretty regularly? Why grab pens and pencils instead of something more valuable? I mean you can literally go to the store and buy pencils for under a dollar. Now go back to that hypothetical situation at the beginning, was your item something easily replicable?
Now what would happen if you were not able to save that item and it burned up, never to be seen again? Would you feel a tremendous loss? Cry? Feel as though an important part of your existence is lost forever? Why is that? Why would you be sad? Because you might be attached to it through the memories and sentimental value you placed in the object. And we all do this at some point in our lives. We put memories in to an inanimate object and turn it into something sacred to us. But in reality the thing is just a thing. A notebook is a notebook, a necklace is just a necklace, and a knick knack is just a knick knack. A necklace does not equal the grandma that gave it to you. Why do we put so much value on these things? The only value other than monetary it has is whatever value we put into it. Therefore, when faced with losing or giving up that object it is harder for us and emotionally trying. We should not feel this way about material things, I mean I try not to.
When I thought about it, I could not think of a singular item that had special meaning to me. I know what you’re thinking “You have nothing of meaning to you? What if all your stuff burned? Would you be sad then for something you lost?” Well of course I would be sad, that’s my stuff! But the thing is it is just stuff, I can get more. I am not saying I don’t love my things. I mean if all my stuff burned I would be a little upset, but I can always get new things and possibly better things. I thought of the hypothetical situation and what I would do, I decided to take a picture of the things I would take if my house was burning down and it looked something like this:
My backpack to carry all my stuff, my cellphone, Mp3 player and laptop with the necessary chargers, headphones (though I probably could have left them out because I could just buy new ones), camera, my ironman flash drive because it has a lot of important things on it, important documents, my medicine, my wallet, All my drawings, my coin collection because it took me a long time to acquire it and I don’t want to have to do it again, and a key chain from Thailand my friend (who I probably won’t see again) gave to me. Now I have some crossovers with what normal people would take, electronics mostly. I took most of these things because they are expensive like the laptop and camera, and I wouldn’t want to have to buy them again. Or I wouldn’t be able to acquire them again like the keychain, drawings, and coin collection. This just shows you how lazy I am that I wouldn’t want to work hard to replace my things. Other than that, I wouldn’t bring any “fluff” items that are replicable, clothes, jewelry, toys, or books. Those items are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. Given the choice I might not have taken anything if not for the fact that we’re comparing what we would take in this type of situation. I realized that:
Stuff is just stuff.
Now you’re saying: “But what about the things that have sentimental value and we cannot replace if they burned?” Sentimental value is the value of something to someone because of personal or emotional connotations, not than material worth. I can understand having a connection with a person, but I can’t understand a connection with an object. It really is not a connection with the object itself. That means you would be connecting to some cold piece of metal, scrap of fabric, or sliver of paper…you can’t connect to the material itself, the object isn’t the source of the connection. You connect with the memories and sentimental value you place in said object. So if that item burned does that mean all those memories and value burn along with it, disappear and you’ll forget? Material items only have monetary value, any sentimental value you put into them will be gone after you die. No, the tangible things in life are not the things that actually matter.
This is not a lecture about the dangers of material things, I’m not trying to criticize people about being too worldly and whatnot. I am not saying to stop loving your things. I mean if all my stuff burned I would be a little upset. But again, I can always get new things. I am just saying to not be too emotionally attached to items that in all actuality, are not indicators of who you are and your life. Your things are not who you are. They are not the people who gave them to you. Your things are not your memories. Your things are just that, your things. Stuff is not made to last forever, sometimes you are going to lose things that you find important and will not be able to get them back. Items are a great way to spur a memory or relive a moment, but they are not the actual moments or memories themselves. Just remember that when your things break, get lost, get forgotten, disappear without a trace, you memories and sentimental value do not disappear along with them. The most important items are the ones that are intangible
Speaking of disappearing, back to the hypothetical situation and the one item you grabbed. You’re standing outside in front of a pile of smoking rubble. All your things are gone, but you and your family are safe. You feel depressed because you liked all your things and now they are gone. You and your family will have to start over from scratch. Then you remember, not totally from scratch. You look down. You are carrying something in your hand…what is it?…